Just as he has two roles musically, as a trombonist and singer, Nils Landgren has two sides stylistically: the upbeat and the sedate. Kristallen, his 24th album, leans to the latter, finding him in duet with pianist Jan Lundgren for a collection mostly of pop ballads and folk songs. It’s easy enough on the ears that, if left as background, it could be mistaken for fluff. Listen closely, though, and it’s surprising how much depth these Swedes deliver.
Start with the fact that Landgren is a stunningly good trombonist, the sort of player whose sound is so light and smooth as to seem effortless. Although his solos aren’t obviously showy, they reflect some serious chops, as he stays almost entirely above middle C and moves around the horn with the crisp agility of a veteran bebopper. Rhythmically imaginative, he swings hard even when playing in three, as his fine solos on “Norwegian Wood” make plain, while his ballad work makes the most of his sweet, Dorsey-like tone.
Lundgren is Landgren’s second duet partner, the first having been the late Esbjörn Svensson, and that leaves him with some fairly big shoes to fill. Although he spends much of the album as an accompanist, backing the trombone with well-colored chords and providing lush, gently rhythmic counterpoint for Landgren’s husky, Chet Baker-ish vocals, he has a strong enough sense of the blues to cut straight to the heart of Keith Jarrett’s “Country,” and puts enough rhythmic punch into the Beatles’ “I Will” that you’d almost think someone snuck a rhythm section onto the track. In all, an understated delight.
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